What Would You Have Saved From the Old Boneyard?

“Bone Yard” at Funston and Lincoln Way, 1944, SFMTA Archive.

The new issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, should reach your mailboxes any day now. It contains a story about our efforts to save the best PCC streetcars at Muni’s current “boneyard”, on Marin Street near Islais Creek, as Muni moves to convert the space into a bus testing yard.

(No, we’re not going to post that story here, at least not yet; our members feel getting first knowledge of important developments regarding the historic streetcar fleet is a perk of their membership. But you can get the new Inside Track instantly, by email if you join right now.)

This post is about the original “boneyard,” the streetcar storage area created by our namesake, the old Market Street Railway Company, in the city block bounded by Lincoln Way, Funston Avenue, 14th Avenue, and Irving Street. (Thanks to the SFMTA Archive for the photo, dated March 1944.)

Our namesake stored over 100 streetcars here at a time, with a large infusion entering the boneyard in the late 1930s, after the courts squashed the company’s operation of some streetcars with just a single crew member. Rather than convert those cars back into two-person operation, they just stored them. Even the increased ridership of World War II didn’t pry them out. These included advanced-looking (but underpowered) “rail sedans” purchased second-hand from East St. Louis, conventional arch roof cars from that railway and from Williamsport, PA, and a variety of deck-roof and arch roof cars originally purchased by predecessor United Railroads, plus, over time, most of the streetcars Market Street Railway built with San Francisco labor in its own Elkton Shops near Balboa Park (now the site of Muni’s Curtis E. Green Light Rail Division).

After Market Street Railway was merged with Muni in 1944, the railway stored streetcars here for a time as they were taken out of service in favor of trolley buses. Briefly, these included at least some of the single-truck E-Union line “dinkys”.

We only know of one single streetcar that escaped the boneyard and is still intact today: 1924 home-built car 798, about which we hope to share some very good news soon. For now, let’s play a game for those with some knowledge of the boneyard.

If you could have waved a magic wand and saved up to three streetcars from scrapping, so that they could be running on the E- and F-lines today, which three would they be (meaning which type, not which specific car numbers)?  Answer in the comments section.  Wishing won’t make it so, but what the heck.

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84% Support Historic Streetcars

In the increasingly frothy world of online media, we’ve noticed a definite increase in stories designed to create a controversy where there really isn’t one. With today’s frantic competition for eyeballs, competitors will often build on each other’s story without doing any actual, you know, reporting. (Not that this is just an online media thing; who of a certain age can forget the Chronicle’s “crusade” against bad coffee half a century ago, under the unforgettable headline, “A Great City’s People Forced to Drink Swill.” But we digress.)

Recent case in point on the fake controversy front. The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez ran a straightforward story on May 30 about SFMTA’s (Muni’s) application for a federal grant to fund the next steps in the proposed historic streetcar extension to Fort Mason. (Joe Fitz, as he’s widely known, routinely breaks good transportation stories through solid old fashioned reporting, only to have his work parroted, often with no credit, by numerous online sites.) This time, the site StreetsblogSF picked up Joe’s story (with full credit) but decided to spice it up with controversy by turning into a story that asked the question, “Is it Time to Modernize the F-line?” The story revived a post the site made back in 2009, asking the same question, that went nowhere. Both stories almost certainly were suggested to the editor by Tom Radulovich, executve director of Livable City, the non-profit associated with the blog. Tom’s a former BART board member and the primary proponent of replacing the F-line vintage streetcars with modern low-floor streetcars. (These would very likely require major track rebuilding wherever used because they would probably not clear crowns on the hills as is, but we’ll leave feasibility out of this discussion.) We’ve talked cordially with Tom on this topic numerous times and, in friendly terms, agreed to disagree.

Anyway, StreetsblogSF ran its story and the comments on the site were strongly in favor of keeping the old streetcars. Immediately though, other local online news sites jumped in to take advantage of the “controversy,” which wasn’t really that at all, just basically one guy’s opinion.

One of these sites, CurbedSF, which primarily covers real estate, jumped in a few days later and regurgitated the story (must have been a slow day in the development/property world). (Neither of these sites bothered calling us for our views before posting their initial story, by the way, though when we called them, CurbedSF did incorporate our comments in an update.)

CurbedSF did add something new to the “controversy”, though, which is the point of this post.They asked their readers to vote on whether they wanted the historic streetcars to stay on Market Street and the Waterfront, or be replaced.

More than 260 readers responded to the question, “Is it time to get rid of the historic streetcars?” 16% said, “Yes,” while 84% — 5 out of every 6 respondents — said, “No.” San Franciscans know there’s almost nothing in this town that gets 84% agreement.

So maybe we can bid farewell, at least for awhile, to this manufactured “controversy”, and focus efforts on making the historic streetcar service run more efficiently, with cashless boarding (pre-paid fares on the busiest parts of the line), even more automobile traffic reduction on Market Street along with consolidated stops from Van Ness to the Ferry, better line management on both lines, but particularly the E-line, and other low-cost measures that Market Street Railway has been advocating for years.

This survey should erase any remaining doubt that the historic streetcars are highly valued by San Franciscans. Now’s the time to actually do something about helping their riders complete their trips faster.

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More Muni Mismanagement of the E-line

PLEASE SEE JULY 11 UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

Sunday, July 9, has been a gorgeous day in San Francisco, but not a good day (again) for the E-Embarcadero line, which again has been mismanaged, in this case by assigning a streetcar that should have been on the E-line to the F-line instead.

In the photo above, you see one of the seven double-end PCCs, the 1007, working the F-line to Castro, not the E. The double-end PCCs are required on the E-line because single-end streetcars (which are five times more plentiful than double-enders in Muni’s fleet) can’t turn around at the E-line terminal at Sixth and King Streets. Making the issue more critical: for technically complex reasons we won’t get into here, two of those seven double-ended PCCs can’t currently use the Sixth and King terminal and thus have to turn around short of it, skipping the Caltrain stop in both directions and screwing up E-line service along the whole line. So good management means minimizing the number of days those two double-ended PCCs (1009 and 1015) are assigned to the E-line for now. If they had assigned one of those two cars to the F-line, no problem. But assigning a “good” E-line car, 1007, to the F, meant that 1009 was running on the E-line, and skipping the Caltrain stop every time, screwing up the line.

Using a different terminal for the 1009 and 1015 on the E-line guarantees the operation will be thrown off for the entire line, and Muni management knows it.  Market Street Railway has made numerous recommendations to Muni management to try to make the E-line run more reliably, such as using vintage cars like Muni Car 1 or Melbourne 496, which can run the full E-line route without problems, to avoid ever putting those “bad” PCCs into the E-line mix. None of our suggestions has yet been put into effect.

As is common on the E-line now, we saw two E-line cars running nose-to-tail today when they should’ve been 15 minutes apart. That means there is a 30-minute gap between E-line cars elsewhere on the line at that moment…sometimes worse if other factors come into play.

And decisions like the one made today, to put one of the good E-line cars on the F-line instead, only makes things worse.

 

UPDATE, July 11: Market Street Railway and SFMTA leaders held their monthly meeting today and spent most of their time on the issue. The streetcar pictured above has been reassigned to the E-line and from now on, Muni Operations will do everything they can to limit double-end PCCs on the F-line to those two cars (1009, 1015) that have trouble using the normal E-line southern terminal at Caltrain.

The current issue was not the fault of Muni Rail Maintenance, which put the two double-enders out on the F-line (mistakenly assigning one wrong car) because of an overall temporary streetcar shortage. This included delays in getting some of the new streetcars just returned from Brookville Equipment Company into revenue service because of a shortage of operators to “burn them in” quickly — accumulate the required 1,000 miles without passengers to test the system. One newly returned car is also out with warranty work while another, about to go into rehab at Brookville, was pulled from service when a crack in the bolster under the car was discovered (bolster strengthening is a key target of the rehabilitation process). This temporary single-end car shortage should pass within a couple of weeks.

We had a productive discussion at this meeting on other steps that might be taken in the short-term to try to improve service performance on the E-line, though no actions were clearly committed to by SFMTA. We appreciate the discussion and look forward to seeing concrete positive results soon.

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Waiting for Muni, About 1940

 

Here’s an unusual shot, photographer unknown (at least to us). We’re at Market and McAllister, looking west. It appears to be about 1940.  When our main drag had four streetcar tracks side by side, there were very few spots where there was enough room to build actual boarding islands like you see on Market now. Instead, there were just raised dots to mark what were optimistically called “safety zones”.

But here we have a real concrete island with its own concrete bench, a rarity back then. There’s a woman on the island with a suitcase on the bench, peering down the tracks waiting for her car to come. (Streetcars were called “cars” in San Francisco then, automobiles were only starting to pick up that designation. Some San Franciscans called automobiles “machines.”)

The tracks of Market Street Railway Company’s 5-McAllister streetcar line (now Muni’s 5-Fulton bus) turn off here to the right, headed for Playland. Within a few years, streetcars will again turn off Market here, thanks to an initiative spearheaded by our non-profit (named for the old Muni competitor) to create a turnback loop for F-line streetcars near Civic Center, allowing Muni to add additional service between downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf when needed. The loop will wrap around the building right center, then called Hotel Shaw, with a layover on Charles Brenham Place (the extension of Seventh Street north of Market), a street that didn’t exist when this photo was taken.

We see a few Market Street Railway Company “White Front” cars in the distance to the woman’s right, headed to the Ferry (or maybe East Bay Terminal), but nothing outbound, either MSR or Muni. One other thing: in another rarity, the photographer has captured the Wiley “bird cage” signal to the right with its reading blank, in that fraction of a second as it was changing from GO to STOP or vice versa (there was no “caution” phase in between). Note the small pedestrian signal beneath it. Countdown timer?  What’s that?

You can see a working Wiley signal, unique to San Francisco and gone from our streets by 1962, at our San Francisco Railway Museum across from the Ferry Building.  Drop by and see our exhibits and unique gifts, perfect for San Franciscans to give to others to demonstrate their love of our city’s transit history.

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No F-line Streetcars on the 4th of July

We received this notification from Muni: The F Market will be motorized all day and around 3PM, it will have a reroute short of Pier 39 at Bay Street given the street closures. The E line will operate with streetcars until about 2PM, when they will pull-in and be replaced by motorcoaches. So Muni Operations has decided that E-line streetcars can run until 2 pm, but that F-line streetcars somehow cannot run at all on the 4th, even from Castro… — Read More

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Patriotic Celebration, 1909

Lots of streetcars but even more American flags on and around the Ferry Building on a bright afternoon in October 1909, 1:29 p.m. We don’t know the exact date or who took the photo; if someone knows, fill us in with a comment. Lots to see in this shot. Double-click on the photo to enlarge it and take a tour. Permanent buildings are in place after the 1906 earthquake, some with electric signs (waffles, anyone?). The Southern Pacific is advertising… — Read More

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